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Government to block Bill allowing TDs to scrutinise council spending

The government says proposals by Fianna Fail’s John McGuinness would hamper the government’s own plan for reforms.

Fianna Fail's John McGuinness appealed for a free vote on his legislation, which is set to be blocked by the government in a vote next Tuesday.
Fianna Fail's John McGuinness appealed for a free vote on his legislation, which is set to be blocked by the government in a vote next Tuesday.

THE GOVERNMENT is to block legislation from the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee giving it greater power to scrutinise the spending of Ireland’s local authorities.

Legislation being discussed in the Dáil today, being put forward by Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, proposed to bring local councils under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, who in turn answers to the Dáil committee.

The Bill will be blocked by the government parties, however, who said the legislation would clash with its own broader plan for the reform of local governments and improving public services.

McGuinness had argued that his Bill was “exactly the sort of Bill which should be put to a free vote”, arguing that because the Public Accounts Committee did not have legal authority over council spending, it was “regularly treated with barely-concealed annoyance” when investigating council spending.

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said matters like spending on the planned incinerator at Poolbeg, council purchases of land which was not going to waste, or court rulings which left councils with major bills for damages, were currently beyond the scrutiny of the PAC.

McGuinness said his proposals would not jeopardise the constitutional independence of local government, but insisted that the Dáil must have mechanisms to account for cash which was itself released to councils following the Dáil’s own approval.

‘Not acceptable’

The legislation was supported by Sinn Féin and the technical group, but housing minister Jan O’Sullivan told the Dáil that the legislation – though welcomed – would be blocked in a vote next week.

Though the government supported the underlying principle of the Bill in ensuring greater scrutiny of public money, she said, passing it would mean the government’s own plans for governmental reform could be curtailed.

Extending the Comptroller and Auditor General’s mandate to local authorities, “without regard to the overall framework of external audit, is not acceptable and would not contribute to an economic, efficient or effective external audit process,” O’Sullivan said.

The Public Accounts Committee is traditionally chaired by a member of the opposition, in an effort to ensure balanced scrutiny of public spending. €4.45 billion was distributed to local councils by the Oireachtas in 2010.

McGuinness’s Bill had been timed to coincide with a vacancy in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office, following the retirement of John Buckley earlier this year. The C&AG’s office has a full-time staff of around 140.

Read: That’s one less bill for the new Comptroller and Auditor General to worry about

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Gavan Reilly

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